A new Harvard University study concludes that the heart health benefits gained through brisk walking are similar to those gained through participation in aerobics, jogging, and other forms of strenuous physical activity. The study also confirmed smoking causes significant damage to women’s heart.
Researchers found that women who walked 3 miles per hour or faster for at least 3 hours each week cut their risk of heart disease by as much as 40% — the same reduction brought by aerobics, jogging, and bicycling. Women who walked briskly for five hours each week reduced their risk of heart disease even more, by 50%. Even those women who smoked, were overweight, or had high cholesterol, hypertension, or a family history of early heart disease were able to dramatically reduce their risk of heart disease.
The study also confirmed that smoking is even more dangerous than a sedentary lifestyle. Even smokers who engaged in high levels of physical activity had more than twice the risk of heart disease as the most inactive non-smokers. Co-author Meir Stampfer explained, “It shows that it is much better to be a non-smoker and a coach potato” than a smoker. “The number one priority is to quit smoking and then worry about physical activity,” said Stampfer.
Published in today’s edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, the study surveyed 72,488 nurses between the ages of 40 and 65. This particular study is part of the larger Nurses’ Health Study, a long-term analysis of almost 122,000 nurses that began in 1976.
Researchers cautioned that leisurely strolling should not be confused with the brisk walking described in the recent study, since walking at a pace of 2 to 2.9 miles per hour produced only minor health benefits, and walking at less than 2 miles per hours produced “virtually no heart protection.”